Exotic Phases, Growth and Dynamics of Self-Assembled Molecular Networks: Random Tilings, Quasicrystals and Glasses

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Chemistry


In the world around us we are used to seeing tiled structures from patterns on clothes to floor coverings and artwork. Typically these structures are highly ordered and comprise symmetric arrays of their components. Our familiarity with such arrangements can lead us to overlook random tiling and quasi-crystalline structures that are present all around us. Indeed such structures are found in a broad spectrum of environments from glasses to Islamic art.

We recently demonstrated that it is possible to create random tiled structures using molecules with carefully designed dimensions and intermolecular interactions. Such molecules can be considered as simple tiles and our original work has opened the possibility of studying the self-assembly of structures that are designed to avoid translational order. Our studies move beyond the conventional paradigms of supramolecular chemistry and are more akin to the behaviour of natural systems.

The construction of random tiling systems, such as those that will be prepared, has great importance to a variety of disciplines, moving beyond chemistry and physics to scientists working on optimisation problems and statistical mechanics, to those researching quasi-crystals and the so-called spin-ice problem.

Planned Impact

Our research directly addresses the topics of self-assembly and unconventional ordering which can arise spontaneously in self-assembled materials. Our work is closely aligned with the objectives of the EPSRC Grand Challenges in Chemistry, Directed Assemblies of Extended Structures with Targeted Properties and Physics, Nanoscale Design of Functional Materials, which envisage an increasingly important role for self-assembly approaches in the manufacture of new functional materials.

The EPSRC have recognized that controlling functional and structural properties at a level of complexity comparable with that displayed by biological systems is an extremely long term goal, which may require in excess of 20 years. However they have also recognised that self-assembly of materials has the potential for far-reaching economic impact. Realistically this project is unlikely to have direct economic and societal benefits but it will feed significantly into a far greater understanding of self-assembly which will required in the long term for scientists to meet the EPSRC Grand Challenges.

We consider that the appropriate Pathway to Impact of our proposed research is to influence new ideas and promote cross-fertilisation between different disciplines. We will promote and accelerate the adoption of our methods by potential collaborators and interested third parties in academia and industry by organizing a multi-disciplinary one-day meeting where we will publicise our results and also invite leading international speakers to present their work. The team has a very strong track record in communicating their science to wider audiences and in using the media to publicise their research. We believe that the proposed research is ideal for public communication and therefore we will bid to present our research at the Royal Society Exhibition in the latter years of the project.

A major impact from the research will be the output of trained researchers, 2 postdocs and 2 PhD students, whose training will be enhanced through their participation in an interdisciplinary grouping. This cohort of researchers will provide a highly significant impact through the availability of research staff to support an expansion of research into self-assembly in the UK over the next decade. Any results of commercial significance that arise, possibly related to synthetic methodology or development of theoretical models will be protected through the Business Partnership Unit (BPU) within the School of Chemistry at Nottingham.


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Brandner K (2017) Experimental Determination of Dynamical Lee-Yang Zeros. in Physical review letters

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Korolkov VV (2017) Supramolecular networks stabilise and functionalise black phosphorus. in Nature communications

Description The project developed a greater understanding of the phenomena that underpin the formation of self-assembled arrays on surfaces, an emerging theme in nanotechnology. The research is of a fundamental nature but allowed the development of a greater appreciation of the interplay between subtle intermolecular interactions that control self-assembly. A key discovery was the ability to assemble and characterise molecular arrays on insulating surfaces which facilitates the formation of new devices exploiting molecular recognition and photoactive devices.
Exploitation Route Key discoveries are allowing the development of new research as described above on molecular arrays on insulating surfaces for the formation of new devices exploiting molecular recognition and photoactive devices.
Sectors Chemicals

Description The research has been extensively used for public engagement activities including a lecture at the Royal Institution which has been watched more than 90,000 times on YouTube. Research has also developed new collaborative links with industry, in particular DSTL.
Sector Chemicals
Impact Types Societal

Description EPSRC Responsive Mode
Amount £783,422 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/N033906/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2016 
End 09/2019